Work Package 4 – Watershed/village water governance and management

This work package will comprise three complimentary sub-work packages and operate at watershed and village scale to explore the biophysical environment of water access and availability, the institutional arrangements for water governance at local/community level and practical technologies and approaches that can improve farm productivity for better livelihoods.

The work packages will be based on an assessment of the existing capacity to manage the watershed through both technology and knowledge development. In the effort to achieve this long-term outcome local government, NGO and stakeholder partners will be engaged in all aspects of this work package to build capacity through training and experience. Knowledge will be shared both ways to make sure that new knowledge is adaptable to the local context whereas indigenous knowledge is improved where possible to meet future challenges to the environment.

4.1 Sub Work package – Water availability and access at local scale

The basis of the study is to develop a strategy to optimally utilize the water resources and the associated ecosystem services for the socio-economic development of the local community within the agricultural environment. This sub work package will assess the biophysical environment within the watershed to quantify the water resources at both spatial and temporal levels at the local/watershed scale. A review of historical data coupled with an assessment of current water sources, availability, withdrawal and access potentials and limitations will help in the planning of the future potentials and in the design of appropriate technologies for their use.

The existence of various water sources, surface and groundwater will be determined and future projections of use modelled to form a basis of targeted sustainable use.

The approach will include mapping of surface water sources such as rivers, ponds, wetlands and springs using both on-the-ground transect walks and remote sensing/GIS tools to provide a comprehensive documentation of these water sources. The groundwater will be monitored through piezometers and monitored wells in conjunction with any existing monitoring records to define the temporal and spatial availability. Tracer/flow studies will be carried out to assess recharge and discharge points to enable the development of a watershed plan that will protect the different ecological areas that will support a healthy sustainable system. Current pumping and other withdrawals will be determined as well as estimation of evapotranspiration levels from cropping patterns.

4.2 Sub Work package -Water governance at local scale 

This sub-work package will build on the well-tested concept of Water User Master Plans

(WUMPs), which has been implemented by Helvetas and under the Finnish RVWRMP across

10 districts in Nepal. A recently started ADB project in Far-west Nepal will also adopt a similar approach to improve the climate resilience of mountain watersheds.

WUMPs are based on a participatory process whereby representatives of water users and community-based organizations prioritize water development interventions for their VDC through a participatory planning process. The research project will examine existing plans and if needed conduct new planning processes in adjoining VDCs to cover one catchment area and the districts falling under this area. The project will examine approaches to strengthen the institutionalization of these plans at the village and district level and to enhance coordination and communication among district line agencies within the catchment. It will also explore avenues to connect the holders of WUMPs, with an emphasis on women and marginalized groups, to networks of NGOs and the media (e.g. community radio networks) for increased visibility, ability to attract development funding for their plans and capacity to keep government officials accountable. The project will pilot an inclusive and deliberative integrated planning process for future water allocation and development scenarios at the catchment level, notably using innovative participatory approaches such as role playing games.

Sub Work Package 4.3 – Improved water productivity for local communities 

This sub-work package will explore novel technologies and land management approaches to improve water productivity, enhance sustainable livelihoods and build the climate change resilience of local communities. Although groundwater over-extraction is a problem in many parts of the Ganges basin, the aquifers in the Nepal Terai are thus far underutilized. There are also a significant number of surface water bodies such as natural lakes and wetlands. While there is considerable potential for the increased (and sustainable) use of these stored water reserves in this region, water ‘access’ is a bigger constraint than water ‘availability’. Firstly, the high costs of extraction due to diesel prices make dry season irrigation increasingly unviable, and energy shortages and poor infrastructure prevent electric pumping. Secondly, the cost of boring wells and purchasing pump sets is high, making such investments unfeasible for farmers who are tenants, or who own small and fragmented plots.

We will seek to pilot new approaches for mobilizing the marginal (<0.5ha) and tenant farmer majority to make better use of existing stored water resources away from the command area of canal irrigation systems in Kailali district, while ensuring that water is used sustainably, and natural surface water ecosystems are not undermined.

The first set of pilot interventions will be technical in nature, and include the feasibility analysis and piloting of new efficient pumping technologies. These could include solar pumps to overcome energy constraints for groundwater pumping, and more efficient low lift pumps for extracting water from natural ponds and wetlands.

The second set of interventions to be piloted will include institutional innovations to overcome some of the scale and tenure constraints to improved water use. These include identifying the feasibility of, and piloting the establishment of farmer cooperatives, whereby a group of women or male farmers jointly invest in irrigation equipment and take land on a collective lease. This can overcome some of the scale constraints associated with small and fragmented holdings (Agarwal, 2010). By taking land on a collective lease, their bargaining power with landlords can increase, while the pooling of labor and capital offers opportunities to significantly increase production, reducing the rent burden. In the context of high male out-migration, a group approach to agriculture can help female farmers overcome social constraints to accessing irrigation and agricultural technology.

The third set of interventions will be focused on improving the sustainability and efficiency of water use and protecting freshwater ecosystems and aquifers. This will include the piloting (via drip and sprinkler systems) which will reduce water use per season. The feasibility of incentive systems to promote more efficient use will also be piloted, such as metering or opportunities for farmer groups to sell surplus water. Furthermore, with regards to surface water resources, we will identify a model of sustainable multiple use whereby farmers can use these resources for irrigation while maintaining freshwater fisheries resources and biodiversity.


  • Identify village criteria, and use census data, satellite images/maps and local consultation to short-list 10 villages in the hills and Terai. Visit village development committees (VDCs) and collect focus group data on social and biophysical context.
  • Make final selection of two target villages (one in the hills and one in the terai) based on the short-list and criteria above.
  • Produce water resource database/maps showing the locations and areal extent of surface water bodies (ponds, rivers, springs), and the temporal and spatial variation of groundwater resources (pumps and water tables) in the project area.
  • Assessment of sustainable water availability for irrigation and other purposes from the identified surface water and groundwater sources under past and future climate scenarios, and identification of potential sources that should be targeted for development in the project area, including options which reduce climate associated risks and vulnerabilities.
  • Start political economy analysis of VDCs/basins that captures network analysis and key stakeholders’ perceptions, access to resources, strategies in relation to water resources management and their livelihood options.
  • Start assessment of the different rights systems in VDCs/basins, both formal and informal (e.g., formal/state, customary rights), in relation to de jure and ad hoc decision-making systems and processes in water resources management within the wider context of agrarian structure.
  • Start a comprehensive assessment of (water) governance structure and processes at district development committee (DDC) and VDC levels.
  • Conduct qualitative analysis of two chosen villages to understand land tenure and water access constraints.


  • A database showing the physical spatial locations of surface water resources, and maps showing spatial locations of groundwater/spring sources in the study areas by December, 2016
  • A report on the biophysical, social and cultural challenges to water access within the study sites which include risks and vulnerabilities from climate change (report completed by December 2017).
  • A better understanding of how formal and informal institutions across multiple levels mediate access to water and benefits from water use (report completed by December 2017).
  • Baseline report on water access context completed by March, 31 2017

Assumptions and risks

  • Fieldwork is not hindered by political disruptions and the communities are willing to participate in the study by providing reliable information.
  • Farmers are willing to participate in the project by providing information on land tenure and constructively discussing the adoption of activities for groundwater recharge in designated areas.
  • Fieldwork is not hindered by strikes or unrest related to the political transition. The district is still a relevant administrative unit for the analysis. Governance structure and processes are not going to change within the project duration.
  • Government agencies, water users and civil society organizations are willing to engage in dialogues around water resources management, i.e., there is no major political disturbance.
  • Government agencies, water users and civil society organizations are willing to engage in water resource planning.
  • (i) Target VDC is representative of the broader socioeconomic and biophysical challenges of Western Terai; (ii) reliable hydrological data and satellite imagery will be available; and (iii) farmers will be willing to disclose information on tenure issues.

 Project outcomes

  • Improved understanding of water access and availability opportunities and constraints in the study villages, which can inform more effective farm water management policy and interventions targeted to marginal and tenant farmers under current and future climates.
  • (i) Improved understanding of opportunities for more efficient use of existing technology and new technologies, which can contribute to agricultural productivity improvement, food security and lower future climate risks and vulnerabilities; and (ii) improved understanding of the willingness of farmers to engage in pioneering models of collective land and water management to overcome structural constraints to water access.
  • (i) Improved cooperative approaches for land and water management leading to improved food security, reduced poverty and reduced climate risks and vulnerabilities; (ii) empowered communities and increased farmer capacity to manage and operate new technologies for water management; and (iii) policies and programs which promote sustainable irrigation innovations suitable for marginal and tenant farmers.

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